Real Life Stories From The Richmond Region
The story of the Richmond-Petersburg Region during the Civil War is one of struggle, courage, perseverance and strength. From generals and prisoners to spies and enslaved Americans, the most compelling aspects of the American Civil War are seen through the personal stories of those who lived it. Visit the Richmond-Petersburg Region to learn about real people whose life experiences were forever transformed by this pivotal point in American history.
Rev. John Jasper
John Jasper is arguably one of the most famous black ministers of nineteenth-century Richmond, Virginia, who gained popularity for his electrifying preaching style and his ability to spiritually move both black and white Baptists. Following the Civil War, Jasper became a full-time pastor and in 1867 organized the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in Richmond, ministering to hundreds of local black Baptists, but many whites as well. Jasper's accomplishments were even more remarkable given the fact that he was a slave in the tobacco factories and iron mills of Richmond during the first twenty-five years of his ministry work during a time when Virginia law expressly prohibited blacks from preaching.
Elizabeth Van Lew
The first Union flag to wave over Richmond in four years was raised in 1865 by this famous and effective Union spy. Not only did Van Lew help imprisoned Union captives escape, she also gleaned valuable information from various sources inside Libby Prison. As her work continued, her methods grew more sophisticated. She devised a code involving words and letters that prisoners would underline in the books she lent them. She even managed to penetrate the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis by convincing one of her former servants to secure a position in the Davis household staff. Van Lew sent her information directly to Benjamin Butler as well as to Grant through an elaborate courier system. It was so fast and effective that General Grant often received flowers still fresh from his spy's large garden. Grant would later say of her efforts, "You have sent me the most valuable information received from Richmond during the war." After the war, President Grant rewarded Van Lew with a job as postmistress of Richmond, which she held from 1869 to 1877.